The H-1B Employment-Based Visa – Unnecessarily Feared by Some (Part 2 of 2)
The economic consequences connected to COVID-19 have led many U.S. companies to lay off employees, including some in Connecticut.
The economic consequences connected to COVID-19 have led many U.S. companies to lay off employees, including some in Connecticut. During times of uncertainty, it is unfortunately instinctive to seek scapegoats. Immigrant workers are a perceived threat to some and, consequently, anger is directed toward them. As the logic goes, if U.S. workers are struggling, their interests could be undermined by legal foreign workers. But do foreign workers, particularly those here on H-1Bs, harm U.S. workers and interests?
Surprisingly to some, foreign workers make significant contributions to the United States and to Connecticut. And this is because of the bipartisan, practical and ideally boring design of U.S. immigration law.
You probably do not know that much of current immigration law is based on the 1990 Immigration Act, which was introduced by Democrat Ted Kennedy and signed into law by Republican George H W Bush. According to the Act, a primary purpose of work-based visas is to strengthen our economy by encouraging talented people from all over the world to work in the United States. As an analogy, imagine the impact to your favorite sports team if it recruited the best players, no matter their country of origin. Now imagine the consequences to the team if this recruiting pipeline dried up.
Arguably, this is what happened because of a recent visa ban enacted by former President Trump. Investors and the stock market account for the ill effects of U.S. firms’ ability to meet their employment needs and compete globally. The ban was estimated by the Brookings Institute to cost U.S. firms over $100,000,000,000. U.S. workers, however, may care little about U.S. companies if low talent H-1B workers are undermining them.
A common misunderstanding of the H-1B relates to the use of the word “lottery” in selecting visas, as it implies that luck is a determining factor for the H-1B. The term lottery makes it easy to imagine that the visa system is just an enormous bin filled with foreign sounding names that will be picked at random, perhaps by a claw crane akin to those seen in arcades, thereby determining “winners.” The reality is much more boring. Instead, one must meet qualifications for consideration. In fact, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reports that over 99 percent have a bachelor’s degree and more than half have graduate degrees. Their qualifications may not, however, quell fears of undermining U.S. workers.
While there are unfortunate abuses of the system that are widely disseminated when they occur, research has demonstrated that H-1B workers increase U.S. employment in the aggregate. As part of the H-1B (and many other visas too), companies must file documents demonstrating that they are paying market wages to not undermine U.S. workers and are prevented from hiring workers if there have been recent layoffs. Moreover, hiring H-1B workers can lead to the hiring of more U.S. workers and stronger wages.
An increase in foreign STEM-related jobs in U.S. cities have been shown to lead to a 7-8 percent increase in salaries among all college-educated U.S. natives. Perhaps the biggest benefit, however, is that if U.S. companies are unable to recruit the talent they seek to U.S. shores, what do you think they do? When companies are unable to bring the people they need to the United States, they move their operations elsewhere.
Zachary Johnson, Ph.D. was born in Danbury. He sees value in the contributions of foreign-born workers. He is a business professor and the founder of ProfVal.com, a purpose-driven provider of research-based Expert Opinion Letters that are used to supplement employment-based visa petitions. ProfVal seeks to give back, both by providing educational resources related to work-based visas and through giving programs related to education. ProfVal does not provide legal advice and this column is not intended as such.